Basil and tomatoes together are the fresh taste of summer.
Basil is a favorite culinary herb. Dried basil is delicious and practical for use throughout the year, but nothing beats the aroma and flavor of fresh basil. Basil does not keep long once it has been picked, so it is best to process it all at once. You can make a few cups of pesto in less than half an hour and freeze it in small containers. When you want the flavor of fresh basil in the middle of January, simply thaw one of the containers of pesto for a gourmet pasta meal. Alternatively, you can dry and store the leaves to use whenever you need them. Add this to my Recipe Box.
1. Wash or rinse the basil. Skip this step if you have organic basil you grew yourself that does not have any bugs on it. Strip the basil leaves off the stems. Stems are edible but have a tough texture.
2. Grate the Parmesan cheese finely. Peel the garlic and pulse in the food processor until finely minced.
3. Add the basil leaves, grated cheese, olive oil, pine nuts or sunflower seeds, salt and pepper to the food processor. You may have to make more than one batch. Process until the mixture forms a smooth, thick paste. Stop the machine periodically to scrape down the sides.
4. If you have to process all the ingredients in two or more batches, blend all of the batches to the same consistency. Mix them together in a bowl to blend completely.
Storing and Using Pesto
5. Divide the pesto into airtight containers that each hold enough for one meal.
6. Refrigerate the fresh pesto you will eat first. Store pesto for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.
7. Freeze the remaining containers of pesto. Frozen pesto keeps for at least a few months. Thaw before using. Leave the pesto frozen and double-bag it in plastic bags that zip closed to take on backpacking trips. Use the pesto on the first evening meal of your trip.
8. Eat the pesto with pasta, on bread or crackers, or as a pizza topping.
9. Harvest the basil before it flowers. Flowering basil is safe to eat but has less flavor and tougher leaves.
10. Snip the basil stems using sharp scissors or small pruning shears. Snip close to the main stem or at the length where you want to prune the plant.
11. Wash or rinse the basil. Shake the stems to remove excess water. Strip the leaves off the stems.
12. Spread the leaves out on a plate so they do not touch. Turn them over a few times a day as they dry.
13. Store the completely dried leaves in airtight glass jars, plastic containers or plastic bags. Label the containers with the type of basil and date of harvest. For the best flavor, store the leaves whole and crush them just before using.